Industry Chronicles

How Avocados Conquered the Super Bowl

Avocados From Mexico in 2015 became the first fresh produce brand to advertise at the major sporting event, in what turned out to be a hugely beneficial move for the industry.

by Tad Thompson

In May 2014, five months after Alvaro Luque became president and CEO of Avocados from Mexico (AFM), he sat in the Dallas headquarters for the first meeting with his board. “My idea I took to the board was: ‘Let’s go to the Super Bowl,’” he says.  

Luque recounts that a Super Bowl promotion was something some board members “may have discussed, but no one had brought it to the table to really do it. I was the one who brought it up in that meeting. Our first Super Bowl promotion came because we made that decision mid-2014 and then prepared for the Super Bowl in February 2015.”

This was a fateful move. It’s arguably one of the boldest, most strategic marketing decisions ever presented in the fresh produce industry. 

In 2015, Mexican avocados were already popular, but consumer recognition of the brand was low. Since Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24, Mexican avocados’ commercial importance has skyrocketed by every statistical measure.

“There was something very unique about the Super Bowl for us as an industry,” says Luque. “When we started, the Super Bowl was already the number one holiday for avocados, by far.”

In 2012, Mexico’s avocado export economic output for the U.S. market was $1.7 billion. But thanks in large part to AFM’s marketing efforts and Super Bowl promotions, that value had increased 560% to $11.2 billion for the 2021-22 shipping season. 

“I’d love to tell you that we were the ones who invented the idea that guacamole goes with football, but that’s not the reality, admits Luque. “It was already big, but we wanted to be sure that we were taking advantage of that. We knew that guacamole is the best thing for us here in the United States because it’s a recipe that completely crosses cultures. You can have a bowl of guac in a Mexican restaurant that is guacamole. It’s super-traditional. And using almost the same recipe, you can take it to an American restaurant, and it is a football guac that is very American.

“You have this recipe that moves through cultures very well, and we took advantage of that. When football starts in September-October, leading up to the Super Bowl, really the only brand you can have in the market is Avocados from Mexico. So, it was a great opportunity for us to be sure we were promoting our brand and our message at a time when the only option in the market is our brand.”

Luque recalls when he started with AFM, the organization had a “good advantage, but also a very important problem. “The advantage was we were already big. We had 65% of the market share at that time, but the problem was that we only had 20% of consumer brand preference. We were a leader in terms of volume but really, we were not that strong in terms of top-of-mind for consumers. So, the idea of the Super Bowl was great for us because it’s the time where Mexico completely dominates the market, and there was no other brand or fruit competing around that time.”

He also notes, “We wanted the Super Bowl to really hit the table and say ‘Guys we’re here’ We’re the market leaders, and Mexico is the place where avocados come from, and this is Avocados from Mexico,’” he says. “It was a way of presenting ourselves to the market. But we never thought at that moment that it was going to be so successful, but that totally changed the way we built up the brand for this organization.”

When AFM placed a television ad for the 2015 Super Bowl, “At that moment it was a one-shot deal. It was more about the ad than anything else. We wanted to be sure we presented the message and the brand in that ad. And we started understanding how the Super Bowl works. We knew we needed at that time a digital component to support the ad we were taking to the game. The first year the focus was on the novelty of the ad, not the promotion — even though we saw a very big spike in sales that year. But it was all because of the ad and the brand that we were able to join the conversation.”

AFM’s digital campaign in its first year ended up being the second most important digital campaign of the Super Bowl, according to Merkle, a market insights company — beaten only by consumer goods corporation Proctor & Gamble. “When you do a Super Bowl it’s not only about the ad. It’s about the whole campaign surrounding it. Digital plays a very important part of the Super Bowl,” says Luque.

“At that moment we opened our eyes and said, ‘Ok, here is something different. This is not a one-year event. This is something that we can use to create a brand and try to build up a story over time. It is also something we can use to multiply our promotional and brand impressions around the Super Bowl.’ Then we started creating a whole ecosystem around it. From there on — it was less important about the ad, and more important about the whole ecosystem. And this is how we’ve been building up the brand and the business around this big event,” explains Luque.

He describes that first year as a game changer, with many people surprised at seeing a fresh produce brand advertise on the Super Bowl broadcast. “The whole industry just opened their eyes: ‘Wow, what’s going on here,’” he says.

AFM got to work creating a brand promotion around the sporting event not only to make sales grow before, but to sustain them afterward. “If you see from the beginning to where we are right now, even though that event was huge, we’re now importing more than 55% more pounds than when we started the Super Bowl ads,” he says. “So, we’ve been able to grow those four weeks before the game; 55% in terms of volume. 

“Now we’re increasing 60% of volume after the fact. So now we don’t have that drop-off as we had in the past. The weeks after the Super Bowl are sometimes as good as the weeks before the Super Bowl. We now have this drive of eight to nine weeks that is great for the industry.” He says sales are very healthy; prices remain strong, and there’s no longer a postgame volume drop. 

Now, in the United States, Mexican avocados have a 60 percent brand preference, according to AFM. Luque notes, “We’re by far the preferred brand in the U.S., up from a brand nobody knew in 2013, to being a staple brand for the Super Bowl.” 

The Message Is Marketing

The promotion over more recent years involved bringing in Super Bowl legends. In 2021, AFM tied in with the Dallas Cowboys retired star quarterback Troy Aikman. The next year featured New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Last February, AFM’s Super Bowl legend was flashy Deion Sanders. These big names have been used for in-store promotions. Sales have exploded. The 2023 AFM Super Bowl campaign placed 100,000 display bins in national produce departments. “That is 100,000 opportunities to put fruit on the floor that we would not have had if we were not doing this promotion for the Super Bowl.” 

This year, Avocados From Mexico has teamed up with football, food and reality TV star Jesse Palmer to encourage shoppers to host a Better Bowl — a game-day viewing party with plenty of guacamole. The campaign includes QR codes on in-store displays that shoppers can follow for chances to win prizes. Additionally, the brand launched GuacAImole, a new multi-modal AI-powered tool that generates guacamole recipes based on images users upload with ingredients they have at home.

As Mexican avocados increasingly accessed the U.S. market — well before Luque’s arrival — California avocado growers “were a little concerned, as far as I understand, not only about the phytosanitary part, but also that Mexican avocados were going to come in and have an effect on their volume and price.” 

Time has shown an opposite story, he says. After Mexico has had more than 20 years in the market, California avocados still sell out and “at a higher price than they did at that time. So, it has been very good for the California business that they reopened. The only thing is that, yes, at that time they were 50% of the market or more, and now California is less than 10% of the market in the United States. But it is still very profitable for their avocados.”

In the U.S. many agree that the avocado market still has a lot of potential for growth. “If you see the numbers, we are in the lower 60s of household penetration, and the numbers of avocados they’re buying per trip are less than three every time they go into stores,” attests Luque. “You can’t even compose a good guacamole with three avocados. So, there’s a lot of opportunities to keep on growing. The important thing is that our Super Bowl promotion still has room to grow. But it’s not only about the Super Bowl. We need to start developing other parts of the year.”

Specifically, Cinco de Mayo — a yearly celebration held on May 5 to celebrate Mexico’s victory over the Second French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 — “has been super successful for us,” says Luque. “Our most recent Cinco was the best ever for this organization. But also, we have been developing ‘OND’ — October, November and December. I think there is a very interesting attraction for the category there, before the Super Bowl starts. There are a lot of holiday activities, and then there is the Super Bowl. If you take those four times a year, the category can keep on growing. The beauty of a Super Bowl program is that it gives you the wings to sell an omnichannel program. We are trying as much as possible to take those opportunities and keep this market growing. I think that the sky’s the limit.” 

“Today, more than eight out of ten avocados in the U.S. are Mexican, so our job is to keep this market healthy and growing; and we have the budget to keep it going like that.”

Luque stresses: “Marketing. That’s my message. There is so much we can do. But you need to believe in this. If you don’t — people are going to choose the other products that are there. And it’s not a competition between avocados and onions. It’s a competition between avocados and pizza and avocados and burgers. We need to be sure that we are aggressive, and marketing is the way to go. So, I hope people understand that, and I hope we see the produce industry getting bigger and bigger on the marketing side.”

AFM has been in conversation with several U.S. commodity boards for possible new cooperative promotions. “The biggest issue that I see every time I talk to them is the funding. We have the blessing of having a very healthy budget. Yes, paying for a Super Bowl spot is a big investment, but the results have been impactful for our brand.” 

Broadly speaking, Luque hopes for a new industry mindset. “I still see a lot of people who don’t believe much in marketing in the produce business. We want to be sure that we keep on pushing the boundaries. At the end of the day, we’re still pushing for the same share of stomach. If we’re not aggressive enough marketing our onions and carrots and avocados, consumers will buy chips and Pepsi and pizzas because they need to fill their stomachs. So, we need as an industry to compete for the stomach, and that’s where marketing comes in.

“I hope to see more produce brands come into the Super Bowl, with other commodity groups. We have good relationships with some of them and yes, the idea is that we sit down and try to change the industry. Change the dynamic hopefully — and share some ideas on what we’re doing.”

This is the opportunity for a high-volume, high-quality, popular product meeting up with one of the most popular events the world has ever seen. Now, the Super Bowl is more fun for tens of millions of viewers because their guacamole is so much a part of the Big Game’s tradition.

Clearly, Avocados From Mexico has been the beneficiary of Luque’s experience and leadership in seizing the moment and reaching new heights in a way that few could have imagined.